A national campaign taking aim at Target's plans to release thousands of Zellers workers has arrived in Winnipeg.
Billboards in support of the Target Fairness campaign, launched by Canada's largest private-sector union, dot the city, including one on McPhillips Street.
They are part of a movement launched in January to raise awareness Target doesn't plan to retain former Zellers workers when it takes over more than 100 outlets in Canada this year as part of a lease takeover from Hudson's Bay Company, which owns Zellers.
Those locations include Kildonan Place Mall and Southdale Centre in Winnipeg and the Brandon Shoppers Mall. Target began hiring for as many as 60 positions for its upcoming Manitoba stores in February.
"(Target has) tried to dehumanize this issue by saying it's a real estate transaction," said UFCW national representative Derek Johnstone, who is based in Toronto. "There are thousands of workers whose lives are going to be impacted by this."
The union represents about 1,300 Zellers employees at 15 locations in Quebec, British Columbia and Ontario. While none of Manitoba's Zellers locations is unionized, Johnstone said UFCW has reached out to employees in non-union locations.
"A big part of this campaign is making sure those Zellers workers in places where they're not unionized know... we are here to help them if they would like our help," he said.
In Winnipeg, employees at affected Zellers stores were reluctant to speak about the campaign due to concerns about how it would affect their future.
Although existing Zellers employees will not be retained when stores slated for transition make the switch to Target, workers are able to apply for jobs at the Target locations along with the general public. However, existing benefits earned by employees, such as pay rates and vacation days, will not be honoured if they are hired to fill the same positions with Target.
Johnstone said several UFCW locals are considering legal action against the decision.
The Target Fairness campaign also features a Facebook group, a website at TargetFairness.ca and a letter-writing campaign directed at Target's corporate headquarters. "It's a clear case of right and wrong, and people are saying it's not right," Johnstone said. "These people deserve to be treated fairly, and Target's not doing that."
Target spokeswoman Lisa Gibson said it's important to realize Target did not buy Zellers outright. Instead, its deal was real estate-based and only included the leasehold interests at 189 sites across the country.
"It does not include things like technology, merchandise and employees. And because Target did not buy the Zellers business and only the leasehold interests, the employees are Zellers employees," she said in an email.
Gibson said the retailing giant is committed to hiring a "talented team" of between 150 and 200 employees per store. Recruiting has just begun for store team leader positions at the Canadian locations and recruitment for other jobs will take place later this year.